Moroccan doctors have long fought for better-quality facilities, technology, wages, and working conditions. Protests have recurred year after year with similar demands every time, but there are also far fewer doctors in the nation than needed, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A recent infographic by the Economist shows that there are not nearly enough doctors in the Arab world overall per the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation. It shows that only Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates meet the WHO’s standard of around 45 doctors, nurses, and midwives per 10,000 people, while Morocco trails with approximately 21 per 10,000.
WHO’s critical threshold is 23 healthcare professionals per 10,000 population, which differs from the 45 recommended, but Morocco does not appear on its list of 49 priority countries. In 2019, US News & World Report stated that Morocco only had 7.2 doctors for every 10,000 residents, a much leaner number than the Economist’s 2020 report, and one which would put Morocco on the priority list.
Moroccan doctors strike
Moroccan doctors went on strike this November to protest the privatization of healthcare, poor working conditions, and low wages. In June, not a single student took the Moroccan medical school examination in protest, offering dismal prospects for an increase of doctors at a time of much need.
Across the world, doctors are being overworked and asked to risk their lives in an unprecedented capacity. Data suggests that doctors in the Arab world, and in Morocco, were dealing with significant issues even before the pandemic began.
Before 2020, Moroccan doctors in protest had the same demands as they did in the recent strikes. In May 2019, 1,000 doctors resigned in the span of 15 days, protesting the conditions in public hospitals. They state that the lack of doctors and upper-level organization make treatment slow and hard to deliver.
Wages for entry-level doctors are only around MAD 7,700 ($850) per month. However, the private healthcare sector enjoys more resources than the public sector. It is known for quality facilities, technology, and care.
The Moroccan government works to expand healthcare, but how far can the efforts go?
Since the spread of COVID-19 began, these demands have only become more urgent, with increased risk and little compensation. In September, Meknes-based nurse Anas Qarim, who worked in a hospital designated to coronavirus patients, told Reuters that three nurses and two doctors were to treat 120 patients at the hospital. There are also long lines to receive a COVID-19 test and for hospitalization of sick patients.
Morocco does appear to be taking steps in the right direction to develop its healthcare services. In 2019, Morocco unveiled a six-stage healthcare plan to reform the system by 2025. This is after it had already raised the number of people covered by healthcare from 47% in 2017 to 60% in 2019. That year, the WHO applauded Morocco’s efforts to expand healthcare and encouraged the government to continue its progress towards a more expansive system.
King Mohammed VI has taken more measures during the coronavirus pandemic to expand healthcare for the population. In April, the King pardoned more than 5,654 prisoners to curb the spread of the virus and protect imprisoned people from sickness. As of late October, the Special Fund for the Management and Response to COVID-19, which the King created in mid-March with an initial value of MAD 10 billion ($1.1 billion) had supplied a total of MAD 3.135 billion ($342 million) to support the health sector during the pandemic. However, the number of coronavirus cases in the country continues to increase, with 4,592 new cases on Friday alone.
The reform to the Moroccan healthcare sector is promising, but it is uncertain how much the system can improve if doctors’ needs are not being met. The primary problem is lack of healthcare workers, and poor wages and conditions to develop and retain them. No matter how much money goes into the system, it is healthcare workers — and supported ones at that — who will execute successful healthcare for the Moroccan population.